Germany’s Bavarian capital, Munich, offers the best of both worlds – metropolitan life and rural panoramas replete with rustic charm, writes David Hughes.
Ok, so Oktoberfest has whetted your appetite for all things German.
After beating that BMW to the last space in the car park outside the posh Muscat hotel doing bratwurst and Bavarian folk music, you’re hungry for more, right?
So where better to start than in Munich?
It’s the capital of Germany’s Bavaria region, the powerhouse city of the world’s fourth largest economy and lies on the River Iser at the edge of the Bavarian Alps.
This is home to 1.5 million people blessed to live in a city with some of the finest neo-classical and neo-Gothic architecture in Europe, a bustling art scene all year round, fabulous shops and malls and, of course, the proximity to the Alps, which includes the ski resort of Garmisch-Partenkirchen and the legendary Neuschwanstein Castle.
My favourite place– Like all petrol-heads, it has to be the BMW Museum. Germany does museums with grandiose grandeur, and this pristine steel and glass temple sits proudly alongside the car giant’s headquarters. Guided tours will take you round more than 100 cars and motorbikes through the ages, which also include Rolls-Royces and Minis. And the kids can design their own car. Terrific.
Highlights– You’d expect a major city in Europe’s most important country to be stacked with fascinating museums and galleries, majestic palaces, magnificent churches, and beautiful parks and public gardens. The best way to start is simply to go for a walk. Much of the city was flattened in World War II, and many of the destroyed buildings have simply been rebuilt in their former glorious image.
Marienplatz, a large square, is the city’s focal point and the Neue Rathaus takes up the whole of one side of it. Its clock is a chiming glockenspiel of dancing and jostling figures. You can take a lift within this splendid neo-Gothic structure for a commanding view of the city.
Then, a stroll of no more than 15 minutes will bring you to Munich Residenz, one of the most spectacular palaces in Europe and the former home of Bavaria’s dukes and kings. Be sure to spend the best part of a day here, and don’t miss out on the impressive courtyards, shimmering fountains, verdant gardens, and delectable ponds. Speaking of open spaces, which is always good to know when you’ve got kids in tow, head for the Englischer Garten (English Garden). Covering 910 acres, it’s reckoned to be the biggest public park in Europe and draws joggers, cyclists, and walkers to its charming pathways. Its woodland, winding streams and artificial lake make it an urban oasis when your museum day has become a bit much.
If fashion is your wife’s thing, then you’ve come to the right place. Maximilianstrasse is where the world’s top designers have their Munich stores. But you can actually find a few outlets here that will offer you ‘last season’ items at very reasonable prices. Shoppers can also head for Theatinerstrasse. It’s just off Marienplatz and is replete with cool boutiques, arcades, cafés, and bistros. For lunch or dinner, the restaurant scene can be delightfully down-to-earth, to suave and sophisticated: it’s not just sauerkraut and pretzels here; delicious though they are.
Lowlights– None, but Germans like rules and order. Service staff will usually be ruthlessly efficient but they won’t necessarily greet you with a smile. And if they can’t give you change from a 20 Euro note, they will imply it’s your fault not theirs. Don’t take this to heart, relax and smile; you’re on holiday.
Souvenirs– If you must have some of the traditional outfits then most of the lederhosen outfitters can be found in shops off Marienplatz. Of course, Germany’s outdoor markets are a delight, especially at Christmas. Foodies must check out the bustling and charming Viktualienmarkt, which is open from 8:00 a.m. till 8:00 p.m. daily except on Sunday, and is where you’ll find all manner of meat, bread and pastries, spices, cheeses, fruit, and flowers.
Getting there– Oman Air operates daily flights from Muscat to Munich. The flight time is just under seven hours.
Where to stay– As you’d expect, all the world’s top hotel chains are represented here. As well as the usual suspects on Booking.com, Hotels.com, Expedia, and Kayak, you’ll find more minimalist options in the south of the city. Most are cheap, not necessarily cheerful, but very clean and efficient.
1. Step back in time at the Deutsche Museum, a time-travel tardis of technology.
2. Take the kids to Hellabrunn Zoo, home to 19,000 animals in open enclosures.
3. Climb the roof of the stadium at Olympic Park, which hosted the 1972 Games.
4. Enjoy the neo-classical architecture of Konigsplatz and its splendid art galleries.
5. Gaze at the Gothic wonder of the imposing and huge Frauenkirche.